Friday, December 14, 2007

Moomins and Madding Crowds

I've not been a huge fan of graphic novels in the past, but maybe I'm starting to crack, having enjoyed these two books enormously. I've only just discovered Tove Jansson's Moomin comic strip series from the 1950s, which Drawn & Quarterly are reprinting (there are two volumes available now and you can see some examples on their website). How to describe the Moomins? They are whimsical, slightly surreal, utterly charming characters who stumble from one adventure to another seemingly unfazed. There's a naive innocence to Moomin himself, but he's surrounded by odd sidekicks - sometimes sinister and sometimes just delightfully grumpy - but always inexplicably along for the ride. One of the most original comics I've ever read and certainly one of the funniest! There's a scene in one of them where Moomin has been trailed by this tiny little character (I like to think of him as a stoat but who knows what he is?) who pops up in the corners and when finally confronted by Moomin admits to being his shadow. He's then so delighted to be finally noticed and acknowledged. It completely cracked me up. Or watching Moomin's sweetheart trying to put on lipstick when her biggest problem is that she doesn't have a mouth. Oh, I can't really do justice to how strange, clever, funny and life-affirming these stories are - you just have to read them. They are totally suitable for kids; my colleague bought a copy of Volume One for her 11 year old son and he loved it.
Tamara Drewe by Posy Simmonds is something completely different. It's a contemporary retelling of Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd. Our modern Bathsheba is a London columnist who has recently had a nose-job and inherited a country house not too far away from a writer's retreat. Her suitors are Ben, the former member of a famous rock band, Nick, a successful but arrogant, married writer and Andy, her humble gardener whose family used to own her house. The narration is very clever, using outside characters - a fellow writer at the retreat, Nick's long-suffering wife and two bored and star-struck teenage girls - to relate the story, which is peppered with literary jokes, e-mails gone astray, and bits of newspaper reports and columns. There is a bit of graphic (as in drawn, not explicit) sex, but teenagers would certainly empathize with the story of the two teenagers so desperate to find a bit of excitement in their sleepy town.

No comments: